Four ways to handle negative comments online

Four ways to handle negative comments online
Fin Wycherley
Fin WycherleySupersize Media

Posted: Tue 16th Nov 2021

A lot has changed with how we do business in the last 10 years. And a lot of it comes down to the digital and social media revolution. But not all of it is positive.

In fact, ‘fear of negative comment’ is one reason why many companies and entrepreneurs shy away from seizing online opportunities.

Businesses might have spent years carefully nurturing an exemplary track record in quality customer service, then one day, some disgruntled eejit decides to ‘have a go’ online and it all goes Pete Tong.

As Warren Buffett says: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

The problem is that the old marketing adage from the pre internet era: if you have a great experience you’ll tell three people, if it was a bad experience, you’ll tell 10. This still holds true today, except magnified by hundreds or thousands depending on how many followers they might have.

Your business has to learn to accept that 95% of your customers and clients will be totally satisfied and 5% are not and may very well be vocal about it. Developing PR systems and strategies to deal with this should be looked into.

But contrary to popular belief, it’s not the trolls that will ruin a business but the businesses’ negative reaction to negativity that will spoil their brand!

In fact, whenever it comes to any kind of crisis communications, negative PR or harmful comments stirring on the internet about the company or the individuals in the company, it’s the failure to have a plan in place to deal with every eventuality in a positive fashion that can often fan the flames out of control.

Three epic PR fails

Here are three ways large companies have got it completely wrong, despite large PR budgets and oodles of PR consultants and agencies to work with. None of them really understood the power of getting the crowd on-side when it comes to negative issues online.

Firstly, when Brewdog had their very public spat with Diageo, the multinational giant was outwitted by a nimble operator who had garnered not just a huge social media following but millions of micro investors through their crowdfunding.

Another bad PR example is EasyJet’s online response to criticism. In the summer of 2019, a passenger flying with EasyJet from England to Switzerland posted a picture of an older lady on the plane who had to sit on a backless seat.

The passenger tagged EasyJet in his tweet so the company could see what is going on in one of their planes. As journalists immediately started replying to the tweet asking for further information on the story, EasyJet noticed the tweet too and had one of the worst responses possible. They asked the passenger to take the tweet down and discuss the situation privately. EasyJet’s response, understandably, resulted in even more online backlash.

And who can forget the epic fail where ALDI Australia clearly hadn’t put enough thought into the consequences their promo would have. They tweeted a casual ‘fill in the blank’ tweet to garner plenty of responses…

“I became an ALDI lover when I tasted ... for the first time”

As you’d expect, this prompted a huge number of vulgar responses by Twitter wags and trolls.

Social media and review websites rule

It’s not just social media that is controlling how a company is perceived. There are a growing number of review sites that are decimating some businesses and elevating others. Think of TripAdvisor, Amazon or Google Reviews, not to mention the thousands of other websites set up to review everything from plumbers to architects to graphic designers.

Even Facebook is measuring your business’ customer service. If 90% of your business page responses take place within 15 minutes, you get the coveted “very responsive to messages” badge.

Is customer service actually that important?

The main problem with businesses being scared of negative reviews however is that while 80% businesses say they deliver superior customer service, only 8% customers agree.

In fact, while the need for quality customer service has not changed over the decades, the ability to hide from bad customer service has. Yet, according to Forrester Research, a third of complaints and comments go completely unanswered.

Transforming a consumer into a brand advocate is everything to do with customer service, perspective and responsiveness. So, when a customer reaches out to say they received less-than-positive service, the business has been thrown an opportunity to begin the transformation.

Four tips for success

There are four basic steps to transform a disgruntled customer into a raving advocate, while winning some new fans on the way:

  1. Respond as quickly as possible: It shows that you care about your reputation; that your attention to detail and customer service is on point and that you want to be seen to be addressing all customer comments, whether negative or positive. After all, if you leave a customer review for a day, a week or a month, it shows you don’t care that the negative review is the first thing new viewers see.

  2. Respond with the most senior person possible: there are some large hotel chains that take their online customer service so seriously that they insist that the ‘regional manager’ responds, rather than the establishment manager. That way, they show that every comment is taken extremely seriously, and any changes or issues that need to be implemented will be orchestrated systematically at the highest level.

  3. Respond positively and enthusiastically: many businesses make the mistake of getting into an argument with reviewers. Or they dispute the facts with a defensive tone. This position will never do. The complainer may very well have dubious motives for passing comment and could in fact, turn out to be a total freeloader, troll or scourge of the earth. However, if your stance is to assume they are, your responses and tone will be read with negativity by innocent online bystanders.

  4. Fix it! Or escalate it! If you get legitimate bad reviews, fix the issue immediately and let people know what you are doing to improve customer experience. If the negative reviews are consistent, it’s time to either invest in exceeding your customer expectations or lowering your prices to such a point that you can begin to achieve those positive reviews again. And if people tell you how good their experience has been, make sure you tell your team. It will improve morale enormously. After all, aren’t your team your primary customers anyway?

Have you had bad experiences online? Do you know someone or a company that has? Be sure to connect with me here to discuss this topic further!

Fin Wycherley
Fin WycherleySupersize Media
Followed by Barack Obama on Twitter, the Bank of England on her newsletter list and a regular expert speaker with BBC TV and radio, Fin walks the walk of social media. An accredited Facebook Marketing Partner and Trainer, Fin works with FTSE 100 and ambitious startups to confidently master and implement online marketing tools, strategies, ads and tactics step by step.

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